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Just when you’ve thought we’d seen all the Dean Jones Disney films already, another one appears to prove us wrong! Is the Norman Tokar-directed Snowball Express a hidden gem or best left covered in snow? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
As the film begins, we’re introduced to an insurance worker, Johnny Baxter, played by Dean Jones. He’s arrived late for work and it’s evident that he’s unhappy with his job. Fortunately for him, an attorney is paying him a surprise visit to announce that he has inherited a hotel! It seems that Johnny had an uncle, Jacob Barnsworth, who recently passed away in Silver Hill, Colorado. Uncle Jacob used to run the Grand Imperial Hotel there and now it belongs to Johnny! Johnny is so excited to hear this news that he quits his boring job right then and there not before breaking the company’s computer.
As you can probably guess, Johnny’s family doesn’t take the news that they’re going to move from New York to Silver Hill very well. His wife, Sue, played by Nancy Olson, tries to get Johnny to see sense. His daughter, Chris, played by Kathleen Cody, thinks the idea is horrible. And his son, Richard, played by Johnny Whitaker, doesn’t really have strong feelings one way or the other.
When they arrive in snowy Colorado, they discover that the “Grand Imperial Hotel” is a downtrodden, shoddy, old place in need of repairs.
They also discover an old man residing there named Jesse McCord, played by Harry Morgan. He claims that he and Jacob were pals back in the day and due to some stake claim, Jacob has always allowed him to stay on the property. At first, Johnny wants Jacob to leave, but his family convinces him to let Jesse stay and help them with the hotel.
Johnny heads to the local bank to borrow money, but is denied by the bank president, Martin Ridgeway, played by Keenan Wynn. Mr. Ridgeway doesn’t think Johnny has what it takes to run a hotel and personally wants the hotel for himself so he can establish a home for boys as a memorial for Jacob Barnsworth.
However Johnny isn’t discouraged and goes to a bank in another city to borrow money to make his hotel a ski resort instead. He pretends that he knows how to ski to impress the money lenders which leads to disastrous consequences.
After that attempt fails (and gets Johnny’s face in the local papers), Mr. Ridgeway visits with a presumably change of heart and a check for $3000 to loan Johnny. Johnny is grateful and uses this money to fix up the hotel and get equipment to make it a ski resort. His family and Jesse all pitch in to get the place ready just in time when an avalanche leaves a bunch of traveling skiers with nowhere to stay.
The hotel/ski resort isn’t fully functional though. There are still some problems such as fish coming through the taps, but everyone is patient. However an accident with a donkey engine breaks through two walls of the hotel causing all the guests to leave.
Mr. Ridgeway is ready to foreclose the hotel if Johnny won’t pay him back the loan, but Johnny’s not ready to give up yet. He discovers that there is a snowmobile race happening soon with cash prizes given out to the first three winners. Despite not having any experience in riding a snowmobile, Johnny enters the race, much to his wife’s dismay. She says how patient and supportive she’s been throughout this whole ordeal even though she thought leaving New York was a bad idea in the first place, but now things have gone too far. She leaves Johnny giving him one more thing on his mind.
The day of the race comes and Johnny and Jesse race their hardest and eventually…lose.
Interestingly enough, the race doesn’t end with Johnny winning. As we see Johnny riding back home somewhat dejectedly, we see Sue has returned. The two patch up and realize that they’ll always be there for each other and love each other.
The next day, Johnny is getting ready to sign the papers giving Mr. Ridgeway ownership of the property, but is stopped by Mr. Ridgeway’s secretary, Miss Wigginton, played by Mary Wickes. She mentions how Mr. Ridgeway just wants the land so that he can make a fortune selling all the pine trees in the area. After discussing more, a loophole is exposed which says that Jacob Barnsworth actually owned the entire town of Silver Hill. Hence, Johnny is now the owner of Silver Hill and all that’s in it, including the bank. The family is happy to have their ski resort back and decide to stay in Silver Hill.
And that was Snowball Express. It’s honestly a funny movie. Not non-stop humor, but it does make you laugh often enough. It has great acting by most, especially Dean Jones. Kathleen Cody’s character barely did anything in the film, so that was a bit annoying. The mature ending of Johnny not winning the race quickly followed by a loophole giving Johnny his ski resort again is what you’d expect from Disney. All in all, it’s not an amazing movie, but a fun, enjoyable watch nonetheless.
So, my final score for this film is 27/35 = 77.14% (C+) !
The next review will be posted on August 5, 2019.